I have been struggling with something that I could never quite explain. I haven’t been as mad and angry at Trump as a lot of other white folks. In fact, the minute I hear the words, “Did you see what Trump said…” I just go in my safe space in my head and pretend to listen. There have been times when I’ve asked myself, “Why am I not as mad as they are?” I think it is because I’ve been mad and disappointed for a long time.
Let me explain: As a young white child, I had a heart that felt different. I can’t really explain it, but I knew that I could not be satisfied with what I saw all around me. What was all around me? A lot of racism. If you look like me and choose to block that part out of your memory or have conveniently forgotten it, then I doubt we can truly move forward. So, I have to be honest and say out loud that racism has been a constant presence in my life.
I remember racist jokes at dinner tables. I remember the “n” word said around me without flinching. I remember the “white man armchair quarterback” routine every Saturday where white men were thankful ONLY on that day for black men. It’s why I hold so much anger towards football today. Can’t seem to shake my first memories of watching grown white men contradict themselves while drinking beers and eating hamburgers fresh off the grill.
And so when I see older white folks hate Trump today — the same folks that were the “older” adults that surrounded me when I was a child, I wonder, “Where were you back then?” Why did you allow for your family to talk like that in front of me? Why did you laugh at that joke? Why did you choose to ignore the hate of others when it didn’t feel popular, but you can do it now? Why did you protect your status in the workplace? Why didn’t you say enough is enough back then? Why did you leave it up to a small child to defend her heart? Why did she feel she would be disowned if she went against the white culture that created this mess in the first place? Once you saw my heart, why did you continue to disrespect me because you were “older, wiser, and flat out meaner” and continue to hurt me by egging it on and continuing to say racist things to me? Why didn’t you risk your relationships and status FOR me and FOR my friends and FOR your black neighbors? Why are you so mad now?”
Toni Morrison said in this clip:
“…don’t you understand that the people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft. There is something distorted abut the psyche. It’s a huge waste and it’s a corruption and a distortion. It’s like it’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is. It feels crazy. It is crazy and it leaves — it has just as much of a deleterious effect on white people and possibly equal that it does black people. I always knew that I hd the moral high-ground. All my life. I always thought those people who said I couldn’t come in the drugstore and I ad to sit in these funny places. I couldn’t go in the park.”
“…but if the racist white person, I don’t mean the person who was examining his consciousness and so on, doesn’t understand that he or she is also a race, it’s all so constructed, it’s all so made and it also has some kind of serviceability. But when you take it away, I take your race away, and there you are all strung out and all you got is your little self. And what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself? These are the questions. Part of it is, yes the victim. How terrible this feels for black people.”
“If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is, white people have a very very serious problem and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.”
“Look at it. Absolutely. Your own fears, your own history, and what you need. What do you need this for? It’s not – I said glibly a moment ago that it feels good. It must feel good otherwise they’d give it up. It’s wasteful. It costs a lot. It’s ugly. It hurts. What are you paying for that for?”
And so I guess that’s what I can say now (and this is just to white folks): How many times have you laughed at a racist joke to protect the other white person who said it instead of protecting the harm it did to others? How many times did you NOT speak out against racism when current events were talked about at the dinner table? How many times did you CHOOSE to ignore it so that you could keep your friendships and family happy with you? How many times have YOU looked the other way when someone was treated differently right in front of you? What have you risked in your life to stand up for what you say you believe now?
I remember going through a really intense “anti-racist workshop” 8 years ago. I was doing non-profit work. I was feeling really confident in how anti-racist I was. How I was different. At the very beginning of the course, the facilitator asked us all a question. He said, “How many of you are doing work in black communities?” Every single hand in that room went up. Including mine. He said, “Okay now I have a question for the white folks with your hands up.” I gulped. He said, “How many of you are speaking up at work — where decisions are made at the boardroom tables where you have a seat — and saying all that you do in our neighborhoods? Most importantly, how many of you are having those conversations at your dinner tables with your families? I appreciate the work you are doing in MY community, but what work are you doing in yours? What are you NOT willing to risk at your own tables — what are you afraid will happen?”
That one moment was life-changing for me. I realized how much work I had to do on ME first and with the people I’ve let off the hook my entire life.
And so I finally have the words. Stop wasting energy. Spend that energy figuring out why we are in this place and the role you have personally played in getting us here (and where we’ve actually always been). Spend energy listening.
Sending love right now to all of you and also thanking my Mama for giving me the space to be exactly who I needed to be — always.